Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Telling Rome to get stuffed"?—UPDATED

I'm not a canon lawyer ... but I play one on TV. (If you're anywhere near my age, you may get the reference.)

Phil Lawler over at brings up a very good set of questions over the recent ousters of Bps. Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba and William L. Morris. He refers us back to a post by Dr. Edward Peters written April 1 over the former's privation of office/removal, which is worth reading but doesn't give us any clearer answers ... because he doesn't have full possession of the facts any more than the rest of us do. (His difference — and I applaud him for it — is that he says so, and refuses to go beyond the known facts.)

One thing that struck me in my reading of Bp. Morris' relief and resignation is the comment one Brisbane priest made: according to The Australian, he said "Bishop Morris had brought about his own demise because 'you can't keep telling Rome to get stuffed'."

The style of Bishop Morris's departure [The Australian further notes] is unprecedented in that he has made his disagreements with the Vatican so public. In previous years, bishops who fell from favour have usually resigned on the grounds of ill health, or no reason has been given for their departure.

Canon 751 defines "schism" as "the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him". Canon 1364 §1 states, "Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 194, §1, n. 2, an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication; in addition, a cleric can be punished with the penalties mentioned in can. 1336, §1, nn. 1, 2, and 3." 

  • "Can. 194 §1. The following are removed from an ecclesiastical office by the law itself: ... 2/ a person who has publicly defected from the Catholic faith or from the communion of the Church ...".
  • "Can. 1336 §1. In addition to other penalties which the law may have established, the following are expiatory penalties which can affect an offender either perpetually, for a prescribed time, or for an indeterminate time: 
    • "1/ a prohibition or an order concerning residence in a certain place or territory;
    • "2/ privation of a power, office, function, right, privilege, faculty, favor, title, or insignia, even merely honorary;
    • "3/ a prohibition against exercising those things listed under n. 2, or a prohibition against exercising them in a certain place or outside a certain place; these prohibitions are never under pain of nullity ...".
Now, The Australian refers to Bp. Morris's career as "controversial", which implies that his 2006 pastoral letter — in which he "argued that with an ageing clergy the church should be open to all eventualities, including ordaining women, ordaining married men, welcoming back former priests and recognising the validity of Anglican, Lutheran and Uniting Church orders" — wasn't the only time he strayed off the reservation. Indeed, the article mentions questionable materials in the diocese's sex-education classes and the imparting of general absolution, the latter of which is a grave liturgical no-no and sacramental abuse.

(In fact, the Catholic Church does ordain married converts from other communions under certain circumstances. I haven't heard of a former priest who's been reincardinated; however, Title VI leads me to believe that such isn't impossible. However, recognizing the validity of Anglican or Lutheran ordinations is highly unlikely this side of the parousia; as for ordaining women ... that ain't gonna happen.)

If — I say if — Denver Abp. Charles J. Chaput's report on his apostolic visitation included charges that Bp. Morris allowed, even fostered, grave liturgical abuses and active dissent from the Church's teaching magisterium, and if, in the five years worth of discussion, +Morris did indeed repeatedly "tell Rome to get stuffed", then it seems to me +Morris' actions fit the definition in Canon 751 of "schism".

If that's so, then that should trigger Canon 1364, which incurs excommunication latae sententiae (equivalent to a mandatory sentence). By that fact alone, that would further trigger removal from ecclesial office under either Canon 194 §1.2 or Canon 1336 §1.2; a finding by the Pope in consultation with the Congregation for Bishops and other dicasteries would fit under the provision of 194 §2. 

Again, though, I'm not a canon lawyer, so there may be aspects I'm not seeing.

The major difference between +Morris and the SSPX bishops consecrated by the late Abp. Marcel Lefebvre is that Bl. John Paul II announced their excommunication in Ecclesia Dei en route to setting up the pontifical commission he wanted to reconcile the Society to the Church. (See my update to the "Apologetics Toolbox" entry on Infallibility.)

We here in the Lands Up Over don't normally pay a lot of attention to what goes on in places like Brisbane because ... well, because we're American, and the world revolves around us, don'cha know. Nevertheless, despite our usual Yankee ignorance of what goes on in places not in our back yard — even with long-time allies and friends — this didn't happen "in a corner", as St. Paul said (Ac 26:25-26). 

There's no need to invoke mysterious and malignant cloaks of "Vatican secrecy" if +Morris' dissent and disobedience are matters of public record, nor do we need urban legends of "Temple Police" if the bishop is directly telling the Vatican, "Yeah, I'm doing this; what are ya gonna do about it?"

And we finally see the difference between the Italian hand-wringing of Paul VI, who let the late Cdl. John P. Cody wreck the Archdiocese of Chicago, and the German efficiency of Benedict XVI, "God's Rottweiler". I don't think we need to see Abp. Chaput's private report.

Update: May 9, 2011
As I suspected, confirmed that Bp. William L. Morris had been in conflict with the Vatican for almost two decades, and that the 2006 pastoral letter was only the proverbial last straw. The apostolic visitation by Abp. Chaput was prompted by +Morris' refusal to go to Rome to go over his case personally. The Congregation for Bishops initially asked for his resignation in September 2007; +Morris stalled and refused until the Pope made it clear that his episcopate would end in May ... one way or another.


Bishop Morris and his supporters have charged that the Vatican treated him unjustly. But the long history of this conflict suggests that the Vatican made every effort to give the Australian bishop a fair hearing, to provide him with ample opportunities to correct errors, and finally to arrange a quiet departure. Pope Benedict exercised his authority only after it became painfully clear that Bishop Morris would neither abide by the decisions of the universal Church nor leave his post voluntarily.
Somehow, it's okay for a bishop to tell Rome to get stuffed, but not okay if Rome tells the bishop to get stuffed.